Monday, 18 October 2010

Good times in town - 2

"You know, QO," said my mother-in-law after reading through my blog over breakfast one day, "the way you go on about it, people could get the impression you're always drinking." I laughed so much I nearly spilled my wine. Surely people couldn't jump to conclusions like that? Not my readers, at any rate. No, I won't even countenance the idea.

Anyway, this weekend was the Robin Hood beer festival. Organised by the local branch of CAMRA, this was the third year it's been held at the Castle, and a splendid venue it is too.

Many of us remember with a certain fondness the rather functional surroundings of the Victoria Baths, where the festival was held for donkeys' years, and how the ramp between canteen and main hall could surprise you and have your mushy peas down your front if you weren't careful. But there's no doubt the Castle is a delightful place to hold the event, and it's given it a real boost. Nottingham has responded with great enthusiasm and great capacity for the ever-increasing volume of beer provided by the good peeps at CAMRA. They're saying that the festival brought together more different beers than anywhere else has managed, which is a real achievement. I saw a figure of over 70,000 pints quoted in the media for last year's consumption, and the festival ran out of beer. So they doubled the beer order for this year. And they ran out of beer. I understand they got through to the end of Saturday night but had only 30 casks still running.

Beer festivals have come quite a long way since I started attending them in around 1980 or so. Lots more women come along, some of them even beardless, and lots of younger people too. I grant you that there's still a certain relaxed informality, shall we say, about the whole affair, and the merchandise on offer probably wouldn't sell huge quantities at Henley.

The festival is a credit to Nottingham CAMRA and indeed to the city in a wider sense; it's starting to appear on the beer enthusiasts' radar and bringing visitors in from quite a way away. It's also true that the ever-increasing reputation of the Castle Rock brewery and its excellent pubs is a draw for both locals and visitors. Their Harvest Pale was named Champion Beer of Britain at this year's Great British Beer Festival (the Big Daddy of UK beer fests) and given the standard of competition, that's a real achievement.

Having attempted to go to the Sunday afternoon festival session, only to find it was cancelled, we sat in the sunshine outside the Canal House and sipped some Castle Rock beer. Chatting to a friend who's also made a study of Nottingham beer for many years, we thought back to the days when Shipstones, Home and Mansfield dominated the pubs in town. They've all gone, of course, which is sad in one way. But the increasing number of excellent local microbreweries has meant a great deal more variety and, I venture to say, much higher quality for the local beer drinker.

I was going to put up this post yesterday but for some reason my six and a half hours at the beerfest on Saturday, plus the Sunday afternoon coda, left me a little distracted, and it's taken till now to gather my thoughts. I'm sure you'll understand.


  1. Interesting that the old Home Brewery building in Daybrook is now occupied by Nottinghamshire County Council. Stung by regular comments that they couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery, they moved into one just to make it easier.

    It didn't work.